An initiative funded by the federal government could help solve a key materials recovery issue in e-scrap.

The REMADE (Reducing Embodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions) Institute is gearing up to select its first projects to receive funding. The program is spearheaded with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It launched with the plan to receive a total of $70 million over five years, subject to Congressional budget approval.

Mike McKittrick, technology manager in the DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, described the current progress of the institute at the plastics-focused ReFocus Summit in June. In an interview, McKittrick expanded on the initiative’s interest in funding research that boosts e-scrap materials recovery, particularly e-plastics.

“A lot of people look at recycling electronic waste and it’s really focused on the metals,” McKittrick said. “But there’s a lot of other materials within the electronics, things like polymers. Especially within electronics, there’s PS or ABS that are pretty high energy-intensive polymers that aren’t generally recovered.”

One of the initial projects under consideration for funding aims to increase recovery of polymers from scrap electronics.

McKittrick noted that a separate DOE-involved initiative, the Critical Materials Institute, is researching the recovery of rare earth elements in magnets in hard drives. That work includes automated approaches to disassembling hard drives, as well as chemistry to extract rare earths from magnets.

As E-Scrap News has previously reported, e-plastics present a host of challenges for recycling companies. The complexity of the stream, expensive processing equipment and scattered downstream domestic markets create roadblocks to materials recovery, while e-plastics are making up a greater percentage of device composition.

That means the materials “are lost either to landfill or exported at the end of life,” McKittrick said. “Thinking about ways to recover all the materials within e-waste is a way of not only increasing the potential energy savings and improving the U.S. manufacturing competitiveness but being more efficient with all materials as we’re thinking about electronics – especially as the demand for electronics is continuing to increase.”

The REMADE Institute was first announced in June 2016 and officially kicked off in January.

“The major focus of the institute is doing early-stage applied research that will help develop technologies that, hopefully, the industry will take on,” McKittrick explained. That starts by identifying the key technologies that are missing and creating a barrier to recycling and reuse.

The institute is now in its first budget period and is ramping up its activities, McKittrick said. One of the goals is to develop a “technology roadmap” by polling recycling and other industry stakeholders about the key problems the institute should be tackling. The institute will be accepting proposals from member organizations for new research and development projects.

As its funding is subject to appropriations, the future of the REMADE Institute is uncertain. President Trump’s 2018 budget request for the DOE eliminated funding for REMADE and the other Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation institutes funded through DOE. The House Appropriations Committee also approved a bill that does not include funding for any of the DOE-funded institutes and directs them to conduct an “orderly shutdown.” But the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill recommending full funding of $14 million for each institute, including REMADE. Neither chamber has held a full floor vote.

Organizations interested in participating can contact project leaders through the REMADE Institute website.

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